In his first encyclical Deus caritas est, Pope Benedict XVI drew our attention particularly to the unity of faith and life, in which, as he wrote, “the usual contraposition between worship and ethics falls apart” (n. 14). As he expressed, “Only my readiness to encounter my neighbour and to show him love makes me sensitive to God as well. Only if I serve my neighbour can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much he loves me.”
It is a fitting commentary on the gospel that is given us to today in which the love of God and the love of each other are brought together. As followers of Jesus, we cannot imagine one without the other. Faith and charity are inseparable as Pope Benedict affirmed in his encyclical.
With such a unity of love we are to be people who find a fundamental unit between contemplation and compassion, as one of the great Church Fathers, Gregory the Great espoused in the 5th century. Brought into the gaze of the Father of Jesus, we are to have a heart of hospitality, a heart which is always stretching outwards, beyond what is merely familiar or comfortable. As his followers we are not to be people who have a closed circle of relationships.
Let me tell you of a story of a group of monks who learnt this attitude and the effect that it had.
Their monastery was in great decay, and they were only five monks left. In the woods surrounding the monastery there was a little hut where a rabbi from a nearby town sometimes came. One day, the abbot of the monastery though he would go to visit the rabbi and to see whether he could give any advice that might save the monastery.
But the rabbi could only sympathise with the abbot. They wept together. The abbot implored him, “Is there nothing you can tell me that would help me save my dying order?” “No, I’m sorry,” said the rabbi. “The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you.”
The abbot went home and told the monks what happened. They wondered what the rabbi could have meant. Could he possibly have meant that one of us monks here at the monastery was the Messiah. If that’s the case, which one? Do you suppose he meant the abbot? He has been the leader for a generation. On the other hand, he might have meant Br. Samuel. Certainly, Samuel is a holy man. Certainly, he could not have meant Brother Joseph. Joseph gets angry at times. But come to think of it, even though he is a thorn in people’s sides, when you look back on it, Joseph is virtually always right. Maybe the rabbi did mean him. But surely not Br. Philip. Philip is a real nobody. But then he has a real gift for somehow always being there when you need him. Of course, the rabbi could have meant me. I’m just an ordinary person. Yet supposing he did?
As they thought in this way, the old monks began to treat each other with great respect on the off chance that one of them was indeed the Messiah. An on the chance that each monk himself might be the Messiah they began to treat themselves with great respect.
Soon people began to sense the respect that now began to surround the five old monks and seemed to radiate out of them and fill the place. There was something strangely attractive about it. Hardly knowing why, they began to come back to the monastery more frequently to picnic, to play, to pray. They began to bring their friends to show them this special place. And their friends brought their friends.
Then it happened that some of the younger men who came to visit the monastery started to talk more and more with the old monks. After a while one asked if he could join them. Then another. And another. So, within a few years the monastery had once again become a thriving order.
Let us welcome the others in our life in the same way, in the way that Jesus urges us today. Then, just as the monks in our story, we too will find that life truly flows for us and from us. When we have this attitude of hospitality in our life, we might be surprised whom we meet, and we might also be surprised by what happens in our life.
 Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est: God is Love, Encyclical Letter (25 December 2005), n.18.
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